Authority figures

Date: Sun Mar 24 2002 - 22:03:52 GMT

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    In a message dated 3/17/2002 4:27:27 PM Central Standard
    Time, writes:

    > Subj: Re: FW: MD Dawkins on quantum/mysticism convergence
    > Date: 3/17/2002 4:27:27 PM Central Standard Time
    > From:
    > Sender:
    > Reply-to:
    > To:
    > In a message dated 3/17/2002 11:06:28 AM Central Standard
    > Time, Douglas Brooker <> writes:
    > > Thanks for this.
    > >
    > > If I were conducting a study, my instinct would lead me to pay
    > > special attention to what scientists participating in the 'love fest'
    > > receive or perceive they receive from the mystical side. We can
    > > understand the way the aura of science serves to enhance the
    > > claims of mystics, but less understandable is what scientists receive
    > > from the other side.
    > Hi Douglas.
    > There can be considerable financial and social incentive for
    > scientists to sell out and join the "love fest." They may receive
    > lucrative book deals, for instance. Moreover, many "nonfiction"
    > books are actually conceived by literary agents, and that
    > includes science books. The agents are often just looking
    > for what will sell. So they may identify something that many
    > people will want to believe when they read about it, or that they
    > already believe or want to believe but would also like to see
    > "justified" in "scientific" language. Scientists may also be drawn
    > to the fame that can come from becoming an advocate for some
    > mystical idea. And there are even rich prizes (e.g., Templeton)
    > for connecting religion and science. All these sources of money
    > and attention increase the formation rates of new ways of
    > attaching science to mysticism, and then they increase the
    > centralized transmissivity of the new idea combinations once
    > formed.
    > Attaching the name of an authority figure to a belief system
    > also increases its transmissivity, receptivity, and longevity.
    > (See my 2001 stock market thought contagions paper on
    > that.) People feel more confident about voicing and
    > retransmitting an idea that they can attribute to an authority
    > figure. If the recipient of the message disagrees, the person
    > transmitting the message can always blame the authority
    > figure. They also realize that the listener/recipient of the
    > message is likely to give more credence to a message
    > attributed to an authority figure. That added credence then
    > increases the receptivity that the message enjoys. Finally,
    > it can make people more inclined to remember the message,
    > increasing its longevity.
    > Scientists who can be presented to the public as authority
    > figures can therefore be offered especially lucrative book
    > deals and other ways of profiting from the believers in
    > mysticism. Many scientists are aware of this.
    > --Aaron Lynch

    The section on authority figures in my 2001 stock market
    thought contagions article is quoted below. The phenomenon
    relates to many subjects other than stock market thought
    contagions, including pseudoscientific ideas.

    "... When authority figures start retransmitting information that
    was already spreading among non-authority figures, it gives
    the impression that the information is "authoritative." However,
    as thought contagions start spreading among non-authority
    figures, chances of transmission into an authority figure rise
    with the increasing host population. For highly contagious
    ideas, it can be only a matter of time before transmission starts
    to reach authority figures who have some receptivity to the idea.
    Once one of those authority figures is converted, he or she can
    play the role of grand disseminator-spreading the idea through
    ready access to centralised communication, by ability to influence
    other authority figures, and by the greater receptivity usually
    accorded to messages coming from authority figures. Meanwhile,
    authority figures do not always announce what ideas they might
    have learned non-authorities. So the simple contagiousness of an
    idea can play a larger role in its popularity than is readily
    apparent-even in many cases when the idea appears to spring
    from the better judgment of an authority figure.

    Once a thought contagion spreads to an authority figure, it can
    enjoy rapidly accelerated transmission that further obscures the
    role of its original contagiousness. The most contagious strains
    may become ones that attribute the information to the first authority
    figure who expressed it, rather than to any non-authority figures
    from whom it propagated to the authority figure. The original idea
    plus attribution to the authority figure can enjoy more receptivity
    than the original idea alone, even when spreading by word of mouth
    among non-authority figures. This is due to the wide credence
    placed in authority figures. Interest in talking about authority figures
    can also cause the ideas associated with them to be discussed more
    often, adding to transmissivity as well. People may also feel more
    willing to articulate a belief if they feel they can blame an authority
    figure in case the belief is wrong-possibly raising transmissivity
    still more.

    Authority figures often do originate widely disseminated ideas, or
    select attention-worthy ideas coming from previously
    "non-authoritative" sources. Yet the dissemination by authority
    figures can at times be set in motion by earlier contagion factors
    that are not always conspicuous or truth-contingent. Those earlier
    contagion factors may continue to play an amplifying and sustaining
    role even after authority figures become involved. This can include
    transmission among authority figures as well as transmission among
    people who trust "ordinary folks" more than financial authorities. ..."

    As quoted from Lynch, A., "Thought Contagions in the Stock Market:
    A General Introduction and Focus on the Internet Bubble" published
    in Derivatives Use, Trading, and Regulation Vol 6, #3, and online at

    --Aaron Lynch

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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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